Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Anti-stalking laws legality questioned

October 27, 2000

Michigan’s seven-year-old stalking law is being tossed about America’s legal system - its constitutionality is in question.

The law was pitched again to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday by the state of Michigan’s lawyer, Janet Van Cleve. Van Cleve hopes the court will reject a July decision by U.S. District Judge Richard Enslen, who ruled the law violated the First Amendment.

Under Michigan’s anti-stalking law, people can be convicted of a felony if they make unwanted contact with a person two or more times and make a “credible threat” at least once. Some argue the law would affect journalists or telemarketers who continuously call people for their job, or even a citizen repeatedly calling their congressman.

Journalism instructor Nancy Whitmore said while she understands stalking is a large concern, she was surprised the anti-stalking law even passed through the Michigan Legislature.

“The thing to remember is that the Legislature is a reactionary group,” she said. “Politicians react to what people tell them, and they don’t think about the rules when they write some of these laws.

“They are going with their gut reaction.”

Jerry Lee Staley, a convicted stalker who is serving a 15-to 25-year state prison sentence in Michigan, is contesting the law.

Michigan’s lawyers have argued Staley’s case is not protected by the Constitution because he threatened to commit violent crimes against a woman and her family and to burn their house.

The three Court of Appeals judges reviewing the case have not said when they will rule.

State Sen. Dianne Byrum, D-Onondaga, and candidate for the 8th Congressional District House seat, wrote two of the four statutes in the anti-stalking law. She said allegations of the law’s unconstitutionality are untrue. Those who worked to draft the legislation made sure to leave space for constitutional rights such as contacting a congressman.

“I think they will turn back the lower court decision,” Byrum said. “Attorney General Jennifer Granholm has said she would take it all the way to the Supreme Court if she had to.

“We will prevail.”

The attorney general’s office is scheduled to argue the case at the end of the month.

Don Wilde, a past chairman of the Batterer Intervention Service Coalition of Michigan, said while the constitutionality of the anti-stalking law may be questionable, it is absolutely necessary to have a strong anti-stalking law.

“We simply must have stalking laws,” Wilde said. “We may need to take a long look at it though. It’s a far bigger issue than we realize.”

Wilde said the anti-stalking law in Michigan should be applauded and it is often easier to prosecute stalking than actual domestic violence cases.

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